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Thee stories were published Friday, July 23, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 145
Jo Stuart
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New law enlists hotels in sex exploitation fight
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new law will require hotels to register all guests and specify the relationship of any minors who occupy the rooms. The measure is a tool against sexual exploitation.

The law, No. 6990, will reform a 1985 statute and will involve the tourism industry in children’s protection, said Alvaro Villalobos of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The  law was modified and passed out of the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales to the full legislature, which may now act.

The new measure forbids the tourism industry to promote or facility the sexual exploitation of children, including teenagers. It forbids the use of lodging places, rooms, bars, restaurants, sports areas, lobby and other public areas for sexual exploitation.

The managers of hotels and similar facilities will have affirmative responsibilities to prevent sexual exploitation in their facilities. Among these requirements is to maintain the guest register and have knowledge of the family relationships of any children or young people who occupy rooms with adults. The legal age of consent in Costa Rica is 18.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública is empowered to make regular inspections, probably through the use of the Fuerza Pública. Hotel owners would be obliged to work with the ministry and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, to keep exploitation out of the facility.

In addition to the proposed law, those in the tourism industry are pledging to follow a code of ethics that includes sections on fighting sexual exploitation of children. The Fundación Paniamor is involved in distributing the code.

Maria Teresa Guillén is the manager of the tourism section of the foundation, which has as its goal the protection of youngsters. What her organization does, she said, is run workshops to help those in the industry identify cases of abuse or sexual exploitation. The foundation also supports the efforts of the World Tourism Organization to alert tourists in their home county to the penalties for engaging in sex with underage individuals.

Paniamor is distributing education pamphlets via taxis and rent-a-car agencies. The foundation also is holding workshops for the tourism industry. The next one will be today at the Hotel Corobici in La Sabana from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Kids in uniforms bring back some memories
There is a preschool day care facility on the corner down the hill from my apartment. The other day on my way to catch the bus, I noticed that the children in the yard now have uniforms. Their uniforms are little gray T-shirts and matching shorts, of that soft cotton used in light sweats. The only decoration was the emblem of the school. 

Boys and girls were dressed alike. My immediate thought was how fortunate for the mothers, no ironing and easy care. For the children, no decisions or fighting about what they were going to wear. 

I remember when President Clinton came out in favor of school uniforms in the U.S. While others decried the loss of freedom, I liked the idea. I have always liked the idea. President Clinton grew up in a family headed by a working mother just as I did. We were closer to poor than rich. I never thought much about that, but I do remember wishing I could go to a Catholic school because I heard they taught Greek and Latin and because the kids wore uniforms. 

Uniforms are a great equalizer. In Costa Rica uniforms are the law. Once all school children had to wear the dark blue trousers (or skirts) and lighter blue shirts. Now only public schools must adhere to those colors, private schools may choose different colors. Girls can wear trousers as well as skirts. 

In some schools different grades or levels wear different uniforms. Wearing uniforms are even the custom in some companies and banks here. Not surprisingly, casinos have uniforms. Some of them are quite attractive. The Banco de Costa Rica has a new uniform (new to this unobservant eye) that incorporates the colors of the flag. The men wear red ties and the women red scarves, white blouses and blue pants or skirts. 

Uniforms at work solve a lot of problems, too. No one can complain that you are not dressed appropriately. And making the decision in the morning about what to wear — especially for women — has to be so much simpler here. It has to be cheaper, too. Of course, how you look in the uniform is a different matter. That might encourage people — both men and women — to get into shape. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

When I first moved here the police did not wear uniforms. In most countries, of course, they do. I was told that "the people" did not want them to get any ideas of their importance, Besides, wearing uniforms would make them look too much like an army. 

Things have changed since then. Now the police have uniforms and cars labeled policia. But the Costa Rican attitude towards uniforms makes one realize how different cultures are.

Meanwhile, back at the preschool. I stopped a minute to watch the children play. The little boys were doing their best to get their new uniforms as dirty as possible. One little boy actually jumped, feet first on another, I expected a cry of pain and running to the teacher, but the only sound came from me. The other little boy just rolled over to avoid the next onslaught. 

The little girls were pursuing more demure activities. I can watch little kids with the same fascination as other people watch birds or other animals. Many years ago my husband I were research assistants in the schools of Ipswich, Massachusetts. 

Our jobs were to observe school children at play, hoping to see if there was a correlation between the friends they chose, the ones they gravitated to, and their later achievement in whatever they set out to do. Part of this research had us standing in the schoolyard with our clipboards, and writing down who played with whom. I enjoyed those days.

I tore myself away from watching the children and my memories and hurried to catch my bus, which, of course, passed the intersection just as I was 25 yards from it. 

As it passed, I thought how interesting it was that bus drivers here do not wear uniforms. In most other societies that’s one group that usually does. 

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U.S. woman is target
in confusing crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. woman was the victim of a robbery that triggered a series of events that left a 24-year-old man dead under confusing circumstances.

The woman was not identified. However, she was confronted about 5:30 p.m. by three armed men when she left an athletic club in Rohrmoser, said police. Nearly $3,000 was taken in the heist, they said.

A short while later, a body, later identified as that of Roy Barrantes Robles, was dumped in a lot in Alajuelita. The body had a bullet in the chest.

The occupants abandoned the car from which the body was dumped a short distance away, and police said it was stolen and matched the description of the vehicle used in the robbery.

The dead man was from San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados, which is just south of Alajuelita

New terrorism law
stresses laundering

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional is considering an anti-terrorism measure that is a unified law that is being adopted in many other Central American and Caribbean countries.

In addition to penalties for terrorism, the bill tightens controls over financial transactions and provides stiffer penalties for money laundering.

The bill was proposed by Mario Calderón Castillo, a deputy. The measure is being studied by the Comisión Permanente Especial de Narcotráfico. It covers actions here and also outside the country, mainly of a financial nature.

Money laundering will be punishable with jail terms of four years, more than is provided currently.

The purpose of the model law is to make sure each country makes illegal all the possible terrorist acts, including illegal arms trafficking, the sale of explosives and laundering. The law also covers confiscation of properties used in such crimes.

Language student 
dies in Flamingo fall

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Moravian University student studying Spanish in Costa Rica died July 12 after he suffered a fall in Flamingo, according to investigators.

The man was identified as John Paul Krupa, who had recently arrived in Costa Rica. He was identified as being from Bethlehem, Pa., where the university is located.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization said Krupa was in Flamingo on a holiday with family friends who live in Costa Rica when he fell while returning home at night.

The case is being investigated.

Two held in Cartago
for drug investigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police have arrested two men in Cartago for investigation of drug sales. The men operated out of the Metrópolis Bar, which is adjacent to the well known church ruins of the city.  The men were identified by the last names of Abrahams Rivera and Stewart Quiel.

Agents of the Policía de Control de Drogas said the men were major suppliers of cocaine and crack cocaine. Some 569 grams of a white powder suspected to be cocaine were confiscated in the home of one of the men, agents said.

Trinidad official visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The chancellor of Trinidad and Tobago will be visiting Costa Rica for three days beginning Monday. He is Kwowlson Gift.

While here the chancellor will meet with President Abel Pacheco, his ministers, legislators and officials of the Instituto Interamericano para la Agricultura, said a release from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

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Arrests made in case of closed-down Banco Elca
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bad news for those depositors who were expecting a quick end to the Banco Elca situation. The case got more complex Thursday with the arrest of three bank officials.

Held was the long-time bank chief Carlos Alvarado Moya. He was identified as the president, although he is listed as vice president in the bank’s most current filing with the Superintendencia de Entidades Financieras.

The detention was made at his Escazú home at the hands of Ministerio Público investigators. They were expected to seek six months of preventative detention while the investigation continues.

Bank regulators took over the facilities of Corporación Elca S.A. June 29 and froze any disbursements of cash. They said at the time the bank had less liquidity than the law requires. They promised to make a report to depositors in 90 days.

The arrests signify that officials are investigating criminal allegations and actions by Alvarado that may be against the law. Also arrested was Javier Filloy, a financial adviser.

Although Elca held a small share of the nation’s banking market, perhaps less that 2 percent, it held a disproportionate share of accounts owned by foreigners because it actively sought such clients.

Bank salespeople made frequent visits to seminars held for those who were thinking of moving to Costa Rica.  In addition the financial institution held sums in the five figures that foreigners declared to obtain certain forms of residency status here.

The arrests do not show that any of the bank money has been illegally diverted because the allegations of criminality could involve misstatements and fraudulent reports to regulators. But the arrests and the length of the preventative detention suggests that the case will continue for some time.

24 applicants from here win visas to United States
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just 24 applicants from Costa Rica have been selected to get permanent resident visas from the U. S. government. Results of the diversity visa lottery were announced Thursday.

The lottery awards visas to persons who apply from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. About 100,000 persons are being notified as winners worldwide, although only 55,000 visas will be issued. 

The applicants were selected at random, according to a U.S. State Department release.

The visas have been distributed among six geographic regions, with a maximum of 7 percent available to persons born in any single country, said the department. 

During the visa interview, principal applicants must provide proof of a high school education or its equivalent, or show two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience within the past five years. Those selected will need to act on their immigrant visa applications quickly. 

The Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act passed by Congress in 1997 stipulated that up to 5,000 of the 55,000 annually-allocated diversity visas be made available for use for people in that area.

Other Central American nationals and their visa winners;  Panama, 17; Nicaragua, 14; Belize, 3; Honduras, 35; and Guatemala, 25.

Nationals of Perú got 2,514 visas, and citizens of Cuba got 674.

Castro urged to let those Cubans with U.S. visas to leave the island
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The top U.S. diplomat in Cuba has asked the island's government to grant exit visas to 1,350 people, mainly medical personnel. 

James Cason, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, accused the Communist government Wednesday of denying visas to Cuban nationals who already have U.S. travel documents.  He says Havana's tight restrictions on travel abroad force 

thousands of Cubans to flee the island on rafts or hire smugglers to get them out. 

Cuban President Fidel Castro has criticized U.S. policy on Cuba, saying it encourages illegal immigration. 

The U.S. diplomat also says Washington has issued permanent visas to 20,000 Cubans this year, as part of an agreement between the two nations.  He urged Cuban officials to respect the deal.

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Ban on whaling stays in place until next year 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SORRENTO, Italy — The International Whaling Commission has decided it is not yet ready to lift a ban on commercial whaling. At the end of a fractious annual meeting, the commission decided further discussion on whale management is needed, before the 18-year ban can be lifted. 

The four-day meeting of the International Whaling Commission held here, was dominated by discussions of a possible lifting of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Leading a group of countries that would like to see the ban lifted are Japan, Iceland and Norway.

A difficult session was held on the final day of the meeting, which saw the text of a resolution by the 57-member Commission amended several times. One of the main sticking points was whether a vote on a plan to lift the ban on commercial whaling should take place at next year's meeting. Once the commission decided to drop the provision calling for a vote, the resolution was adopted.

Environmentalists claimed victory after the vote, saying further discussions on whale management was the right way to move forward.

But Japan and other pro-whaling nations expressed disappointment and said the decision undermines the authority of the whaling commission.

The plan for a limited resumption of commercial whaling, under discussion at the meeting, was drawn up by commission chairman Henrik Fischer of Denmark. It called for a five-year phase-in period, when commercial whaling would be allowed only in coastal waters. It also contained measures to ensure whalers did not exceed quotas.

The United States had backed the proposal, but insisted it had not abandoned its traditional anti-whaling stance.

A number of other Japanese proposals were also rejected, including one to abolish a whale sanctuary in the Antarctic Ocean and another to lift a ban on commercial whaling of minke whales, also in the Antarctic Ocean.

During the meeting, the commission also passed a resolution urging nations to find more humane methods for killing whales. Although it did not ban harpoons, it did say these can cause whales to suffer, and ordered the commission to research different killing methods.

U.S. pleased at release of jailed Cuban dissident
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States Thursday welcomed the surprise release from prison of Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque, one of 75 opponents of the Fidel Castro government jailed in a widely-criticized political crackdown last year. 

Ms. Roque, an economist, was the only woman among the 75 dissidents sentenced to long jail terms last year, and the United States had made repeated calls for her release on health grounds. 

Serving a 20-year prison term, she is understood to have been suffering from heart problems and diabetes.

Her release, confirmed by family members in Havana, was welcomed by State Department spokesman Steven Pike, who said the 59-year-old Ms. Roque should never have been imprisoned in the first place.

"Like many other prisoners of conscience held in Castro's Gulag, she suffered from inadequate medical care in prison," he said. "Typically, the Castro government has once again released an activist only when her deteriorating health became an inconvenience."

Ms. Roque and her fellow activists were convicted of subversion and other charges in a rapid series of trials in April 2003 for allegedly conspiring with U.S. diplomats in Havana against the government.

She is the seventh of the dissidents jailed in last year's crackdown to be released for health reasons in the last few months.

However, spokesman Pike said Cuban authorities have escalated harsh treatment of other prisoners including physician Oscar Elias Biscet, about whom the State Department issued a statement of concern.

The statement said Dr. Biscet, an advocate of non-violent resistance to the Communist government serving a 25-year-sentence, had been put in solitary confinement.

It said authorities had barred his wife from bringing him supplementary food and medicine that other prisoners depend on, and had knowingly done this while Dr. Biscet's health has deteriorated markedly.

Spokesman Pike said the United States repeats its call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners immediately, and to allow humanitarian organizations to monitor prison conditions.

Rights commission wants death of Mexican activist probed
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The city’s human rights commission has criticized an investigation into the death of a leading rights activist as seriously flawed. 

The commission president Emilio Alvarez asked officials Wednesday to reopen the case, saying it was not confident in the findings that Digna Ochoa committed suicide.  In a report, the group cited errors, irregularities and missing evidence in the probe of Ms. Ochoa death. The human rights activist

 was found dead in 2001, with two bullet wounds, one to her head and one to her leg. 

Ms. Ochoa's family says she was murdered after receiving death threats for her investigations into alleged abuse by Mexico's army and police. 

Wednesday, Mexico City's Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised his office would consider reopening the case, saying the city has nothing to hide.  But the city's Attorney General Bernard Batiz says Mexican courts have already ruled that the case is closed.

Jo Stuart
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